Washington Prowler

Listless Kerry

A campaign blowing in no wind. Plus: Pre-convention saboteurs. What about the French Foreign Legion?

By 8.31.04

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WINDLESS
On a Sunday when most national news was focused on New York and the Republican Convention, it could not have been a more perfect day in Massachusetts. There, standing by the shore, about a quarter mile from Sen. John Kerry's Nantucket estate, reporters watched as the Democratic presidential candidate attempted to hit the water and windsurf.

But wouldn't you know it, there was no wind. So Kerry just stumbled about, attempting to keep his board and sail up and afloat. What better metaphor for a candidate and a campaign that only two weeks ago appeared poised in the polls to defeat an incumbent president?

In mid-August, with the exception of the Gallup poll, there was not a national poll that did not have John Kerry leading George W. Bush. But about as fast as you can say Swift Boat Veterans for Transforming a Presidential Election, Kerry and his crew find themselves in disarray.

On Monday in Washington meetings were being held behind closed doors at the Kerry campaign, looking for ways to get its candidate and operation back on message. There were rumors circulating mid-day Monday of "major shakeups" in the campaign, according to a Kerry adviser.

"It's not as dramatic as Al Gore moving his campaign headquarters out of Washington, D.C.," says the adviser in Washington. "But I would bet that in a week, there are a few people here who aren't going to be here or with the campaign."

Candidate Kerry, who after flailing about in the tides of Nantucket on Sunday quickly returned to his home, was on the phone for much of Monday attempting to shore up support and encourage surrogate attacks against his opponent on a day that showed support for him crumbling around the edges in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio, all states that Kerry led in by as many as seven percentage points just two weeks ago.

"This has been just a brutal two weeks for him," says another Kerry adviser. "He had people telling him the Swift Boat ads weren't going to take because the media was going to ignore them. There are senior people around Kerry who were buying into all the press clippings that this was our campaign to lose. Well those people aren't going to be around after Labor Day. Heads have to roll over what has happened. Kerry has not been well served. And Kerry has not served the Democratic Party well, either. This has to be hugely disappointing."

The advisers pointed to further evidence that the campaign was losing focus last week. On Friday and Saturday, considered the last official days of campaigning before the Kerry campaign slowed down for the GOP convention week, Kerry had events in Washington state.
During what was supposed to be a public forum in Everett, Kerry spoke for almost an hour before the audience could participate.

"He lost the audience a half hour into the event," says a Democratic National Committee staffer who observed it. "It was miserable. Like the old Kerry we saw as a loser during the primary season."

A similar scene played out the next day in Tacoma, where it appeared Kerry was attempting to kill his audience. Literally. At least five attendees to the rally required medical attention during Kerry's 45-minute speech. Sound like Kerry was hot.

SABOTEURS
Some senior members of the Kerry campaign were aware of the FBI investigation into the possible passage of U.S. documents related to Iran to Israel by a U.S. citizen. "It's not a coincidence that this story dropped on Friday, three days before the Republican convention," says a Kerry adviser in New York. "If the Republicans can do it to Sandy Berger, we can do it to them."

No word on where the leak originated.

That the leak may have short-circuited an ongoing investigation seems to matter little to the Kerry campaign, which has recently been declining national security briefings because it can't find the time to build them into Sen. John Kerry's travel schedule. Other briefings have been delayed or canceled over wrangling about how many Kerry staffers would be allowed to participate in the briefings.

JOHNNY COMES MARCHING
On Wednesday, Sen. John Kerry intends to present a completely revamped speech to the American Legion. The speech, written largely by Kerry communications guru Bob Shrum, is intended to get the candidate some attention at a time when much of the media focus will be on New York and the GOP convention.

"It's going to get him within the top two or three stories on the nightly news that night," says a Kerry adviser.

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